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Teacher Tips - Overcoming Stage Fright & Performance Anxiety

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Overcoming Stage Fright

You might not believe it, but when I was in senior high school I had huge stage fright when it came to playing the piano by myself (in no small part due to an embarrassing experience I had at a school assembly). Performing, and particularly performing by yourself, is something that most people find very daunting, if not downright terrifying. However, performing music in front of an audience is not only fun and inspiring, but it’s also an integral part of a musical education, as music is meant to be shared.

To understand how to overcome stage fright, it’s important to understand why performing is so scary to so many of us. It really boils down to two fears:

We’re afraid of what others think of us According to psychology today, three of the four most common core fears are abandonment, rejection and failure. When we get up in front of a group of people and put ourselves on the line like that, all three of those fears become very real possibilities. If you suffer from stage fright, you’ve probably had some variation of these thoughts go through your head:

“What if I mess up?” “Everyone thinks I’m an idiot” “They all think I suck” “No one likes me”

Even if this sounds extreme, when we perform, particularly if we are performing something as personal and emotional as music, we make ourselves vulnerable to the judgement of others, and that’s scary because it leaves us open to them not liking us or our music.

Being self-critical Unfortunately that old saying that ‘we’re our own worst critics’ is often true. One thing that stops many people feeling comfortable performing is that they are overly critical about their own abilities or skills. In terms of thoughts, it might sound like this:

“I’m not a good singer/guitarist/pianist/drummer” “I don’t know what I’m doing” “I can’t perform in front of people” “I make so many mistakes” Self-critical thoughts are often what draw us to comparing ourselves to others. Comparing yourself to someone who has been playing their whole life, this self-critic can say “See?! Look how great they are. I’ll never be as good as them, I’m not a good musician”.

Learning to overcome fears of the audience When you are trying to overcome stage fright that results from fears of what the audience thinks of you (“them”), the first thing you need to know is this: ALMOST EVERYTHING THEM TELLS YOU IS A LIE. Regardless of whether you have an audience of strangers, an examiner, an audition panel, or friends and family, people watch music being performed because they want to be entertained, moved, and they want to see you succeed! When we want to see someone succeed, we will unconsciously focus on all the good things about their performance, and find it